Science Scope

NASA scientist gets inspiration from a roll of tape

Posting in Design

How one scientist took tape and tried to make an X-ray mirror.

Principal Investigator Maxim Markevitch. Image: NASA

What do you get when you combine a NASA scientist and a roll of tape? If you guessed: a whole new X-ray mirror, you'd be right. You'd also maybe be a psychic.

Maxim Markevitch, a NASA optics expert, developed the new X-ray mirror, after seeing a role of tape. "I remember looking at a roll of Scotch tape and thinking, 'was it possible to use the same design for capturing hard X-rays,'" Markevitch says in the press release. "I talked with a few people, and to my surprise, they didn't see any principal reasons why it couldn't be done."

The reason tape seemed like a good choice, is because it can be stuck together and rolled up tight to make a rolled mirror. The idea is then to have that mirror collect X-rays. The press release explains why that's not so easy.

To capture these ever-elusive photons, the mirrors must be curved and nested inside a cylindrical optical assembly. The rounded geometry allows the high-energy light to graze their surfaces, much like a stone skimming the surface of a pond.

So why X-rays? Well, this mirror would capture the faint X-rays that are emitted by things in space that we normally see with thermal imaging. ""There remains a large and totally unexplored discovery space of faint, diffuse nonthermal astrophysical objects emitting at high X-ray energies," Markevitch said in the press release.

And this method of converting tape into mirrors could help to make X-ray astronomer far cheaper than it is now - a cost that is nearly prohibitive now that NASA's budget is far smaller than it used to be.

No one knows whether the tape idea will work at a real scale, said will Zhang, a collaborator on the project, in the press release. "Maxim's Scotch tape idea is in an early stage," Zhang said. "In the next year, we will know whether it has a chance of working."

Even if it doesn't work, the tape to mirrors idea is yet another example of scientists getting inspiration from everyday objects.

Via: Eurkealert

Image: Credit: NASA/D. McCallum

Rose Eveleth

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Rose Eveleth is a freelance writer, producer and designer based in Brooklyn, New York. Her work has appeared in Scientific American, OnEarth, Discover, New York Times, Story Collider and Radiolab. She holds degrees from the University of California, San Diego and New York University. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure